Latvia is sandwiched like a middle child between outgoing Lithuania and more reserved but tech-savvy Estonia. And like a middle child, it has been forging its own distinctive style, in this case since it regained independence after the demise of the Soviet Union. There is a sense of buoyant energy in the country but also a certain coarseness—qualities that are exemplified in the capital, Riga. The city's elegant and whimsical Jugendstil (art nouveau) buildings are surrounded by blocks of Soviet-era concrete structures and a sprawling industrial area.

Although it is no longer the Paris of the north (as it was once called), Riga is the cosmopolitan hub of the Baltics, with good food and nightlife and an international flair. Visitors can use the capital as a base to explore Latvia's charming, verdant countryside, which includes memorable castles and villas and a stretch of coastline known as the Baltic Riviera.

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